CANTON, Ohio — Whether he is the first true Atlanta Falcon to get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is up for debate. Claude Humphrey is just happy to get enshrined.
“I guess I’m the first original Falcon to go into the Hall of Fame,” he said. “I loved playing for the Atlanta Falcons. I’m proud to be an Atlanta Falcon.”
Humphrey is the second Atlanta player to become inducted, joining Deion Sanders. But whereas Sanders played five seasons with the Falcons, five with the Cowboys, two with the Ravens and another with the 49ers, Humphrey played the first 10 of his 13 NFL seasons in Atlanta.
A defensive end from Tennessee State, Humphrey was drafted third in the 1968 NFL Draft by Atlanta, and he didn’t disappoint. He posted 11.5 sacks his first season and was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He continued his production, recording 94.5 of his 122 sacks with the Falcons. He continues to hold the team record for sacks in a career and sacks in a season (15, 1976).
Humphrey, 70, earned six Pro Bowl honors and was named first- or second-team All-NFC seven times. Still, the numbers weren’t good enough for some Hall of Fame voters. Humphrey was rejected after being a finalist in 2003, 2005 and 2006. In 2009 as a senior nominee, he again was denied.
When Humphrey saw he was among the list of finalists for the Class of 2014, he became worried about his chances, thinking the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters might select only one of the two senior nominees.
“I’m up against Ray Guy, who was a hell of a player,” Humphrey said.
“Then when I got the call and I found out he got the call, too, I said that wonders never cease.”
When Humphrey is enshrined in the hall tonight, he said it’ll be bittersweet. His wife of 47 years, Sandra, died in July. He called her his biggest supporter.
“Whenever I became a finalist for the Hall of Fame, she’d get out and do what she could to try to bring awareness. She worked tirelessly on that,” he said. “And after I wouldn’t make it, we’d sit down and cry and then get up and have a steak.”